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PM Lee: We must remain open

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PM Lee makes call to Singaporeans to be watchful of the darkening global climate

The growing mood of anxiety and discontent, and the ground gained by extreme political parties in many developed countries will impact not just the world economy, but global security and stability, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

There will be major consequences for small, open countries such as Singapore that have relied on open trade and making friends, and sought opportunities to cooperate, he said.

It will also be harder to prosper together in this new climate, where countries becoming more protectionist, seeing others' gains as their loss, he added.

Mr Lee gave this reading of recent trends in a speech to 2,500 People's Action Party (PAP) members at its biennial party conference.

He called on members to understand what the trend means for Singapore and to help ensure the PAP retains strong support from all segments of society.

He said: "The external world is changing... in a very fundamental way not advantageous to us. We have to watch this, we have to know how this is going to impact us over the next few years."

Mr Lee, who is the PAP's secretary-general, noted that voters around the world are unhappy that the benefits of growth are not reaching them and feel threatened that immigrants are competing for their jobs.

He cited the recent United States election, the Brexit vote and the rise of extreme parties in Europe as examples of voters' weariness of trade and wariness of immigrants.

He said: "This looks like the trend now. I do not know how far it will go, but I do not like the direction the trend is going.

"If more countries turn this way, the world is going to change, and change for the worse."

Singapore prospered in the past 50 years by working hard, but it was fortunate to have a favourable external environment - a peaceful Asia and an international order where countries cooperate and compete under rules that are fair to all, giving small countries "a right to their place in the sun".

Today, countries are getting more assertive.

"Nobody can tell how relations between the big powers will develop. If US-China relations grow tense, Singapore is going to be in a very difficult spot, because we regard both the US and China as our friends and do not want to have to choose between them."

Meanwhile, obstacles to trade are increasing and Singapore's exports - a key pillar of its economy - are not growing by very much either.

But Singapore has to accept the world as it is, not as it wishes it to be, said Mr Lee.

He said: "We ourselves must remain open, because if we close up like other countries, our people will be finished."

PM Lee: Singapore can face uncertain economy better

Singapore is in a much better situation than other developed countries facing slowing growth and an uncertain economic outlook, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has said.

Unemployment is low, including among youth, and incomes are rising even for lower- and middle-income families, he told 2,500 People's Action Party (PAP) members at the biennial party conference yesterday.

Mr Lee, the PAP's secretary-general, said: "We are still creating more jobs than there are Singaporeans to fill them, and we are creating better jobs for the future."

But there can be no let-up given the difficulties ahead, he added, citing how, even as a good education system enables young people to compete for good jobs, skills have to be continually upgraded as jobs change.

"Change is happening fast, and it is going to get even faster."

Mr Lee's comments come against a backdrop of economic restructuring and slower growth. Singapore's economy is forecast to grow at 1 per cent to 1.5 per cent this year, down from 2 per cent last year.

Retrenchment numbers for this year, which reached an estimated 11,890 over the first nine months, are also expected to be higher than last year's 13,440.

Given the uncertain international environment, the Government must strive hard to keep improving the lives of Singaporeans, especially in the areas of education, skills upgrading and social support, he said.

Housing is a big issue in other major cities, especially for young people, Mr Lee said.

He added that being able to have a home when people start a family helps to foster a sense of nationhood and unity.

"It is one way we make this a home for all Singaporeans."

Mr Lee also said that for Singapore to stay successful, the PAP must continue to be a strong national party that brings people together and takes the country forward in an increasingly fragmented world.

In order to do so, the party must continue to reach out to as well as represent all segments of society.

"It works both ways. If our society is united, then it is easier for the PAP to represent a broad mass of Singaporeans," he said.

"Conversely, if the PAP government pursues policies that benefit Singaporeans across the board, that bring Singaporeans closer together, then our society can remain united."

Mr Lee also spelled out two other things the party had to do to stay strong and win future elections: Serve the people and never take voters for granted, as well as provide strong leadership for Singapore.

"We count it a privilege to serve. We cannot be like political parties in some other countries, where people join a party for the spoils - because you enter politics, you get payoffs, you get contracts, you get deals, you are on the inside track, you get personal benefits, sometimes huge ones."

He added to laughter: "Here, if you join the PAP, you expect hard work - and tough speeches. But we must never slacken. We cannot afford to take voters for granted." - THE STRAITS TIMES

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